Google Explains Chromecast Changes

Despite claim that it will shut out small developers, Google insists it wants Chromecast video-streaming apps for local content.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

August 26, 2013

3 Min Read

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An Android app developer's accusation that Google wants to limit Chromecast video streaming to preferred media partners turns out to be unfounded.

Last month, Google launched Chromecast, a $35 USB device that can be connected to TVs to receive content streamed from remote services or a Chrome browser tab on a local device, in a bid to challenge Apple for a place in Internet users' living rooms.

On Sunday, Koushik Dutta, founder of Android app company ClockworkMod claimed that Google had "intentionally" pushed an update to its Chromecast hardware to prevent his AllCast app from being able to stream content from a local device.

The developer of the Fling app reported similar technical difficulties.

[ Want to know more about Chromecast? Read Google Takes On Apple With Chromecast, Android 4.3. ]

Dutta speculated that "Chromecast will probably not be indie developer friendly" and that "the Google TV team will likely only whitelist media companies."

Given that large media companies pursue aggressive legal strategies to limit the ways that entertainment content can be moved, shared and stored across devices, this is perhaps not an unreasonable assumption. And given public willingness to see evil in Google, a company with a motto disavowing evil, it's perhaps less surprising still.

Also, when Chromecast was introduced, Google did not explicitly state that the device would be able to stream local content. Google SVP Sundar Pichai, in a blog post announcing the device, said Chromecast "allows you to use your phone, tablet or laptop to 'cast' online content to your TV screen." Elsewhere, he said, "you can use Chromecast to bring a broad range of content available on the Web to your [TV]."

Web browsers can display local content. But Pichai's reference to "online" content suggests a focus on established media providers, rather than serving locally stored video files.

Even so, anticipating the worst doesn't make it happen. Google attributes the issues experienced by Dutta to changes in an evolving product. The company is offering its Cast SDK as a developer preview and has warned that the software is subject to change. Presumably, the same holds true for Google's Chromecast hardware, which interacts with Cast-related software.

"We're excited to bring more content to Chromecast and would like to support all types of apps, including those for local content," a company spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "It's still early days for the Google Cast SDK, which we just released in developer preview for early development and testing only. We expect that the SDK will continue to change before we launch out of developer preview, and want to provide a great experience for users and developers before making the SDK and additional apps more broadly available."

People posting to Dutta's Google+ thread chastised him for relying on undocumented, unreleased and incomplete APIs. But Dutta indicated that he wasn't using the Cast SDK APIs to get his app to work with Google's hardware. In other words, he reverse-engineered them. He maintains, "The change was an internal one intentionally made to break Fling and AllCast. It wasn't an 'SDK' change. There was no other reason to make that change."

It's certainly possible Google altered its hardware to disable apps that access Chromecast hardware without using the Cast SDK. The company didn't respond to a request to clarify its intentions. Nonetheless, Google is under no obligation to keep its software and hardware unchanged for the convenience of developers who aren't using public APIs.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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